Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Homeowner homebuilders: My response to Alec Caldwell, Part 1

By John Bleasby

I’m back!

Having recently built my own new home, acting as my own GC (see my weekly journal in Canadian Contractor throughout 2014), I have to respond to Alec Caldwell’s call-out to homeowner-builders.

First, Mr. Caldwell asks the question: “Are these homeowners (constructors) out to save a buck by building themselves?”

There are many reasons why owners might undertake their own home building project. Most certainly one of them is the potential for saving money. And why not? If they do the GC job properly, why shouldn’t there be savings? Perhaps there is a failure of the industry to point out the advantages of having professional project management. Maybe it’s the fault celebrity handymen seen on TV? (More on that later.)

Second reason, and here I can indicate some of my personal reasons: You might get the home you want, not the home a contractor wants to build for you. I had several animated discussions with my prospective GC before I cut him loose. Many concerned both the building process and his proposed budget. In the first, he didn’t want to build using ICF and I did; and in the second, he couldn’t show me realistic and formal estimates of costs.

20140702_113106Thirdly (I could go on and on), I wanted to be intimately involved in the specification of materials and the daily on-site decisions that would be inevitable. He wanted to buy his own materials and didn’t want me on the site except for pre-arranged visits.

Next, Mr. Caldwell suggests that homeowner builders “get away with endangering people’s lives”. That’s a pretty rash generalization and certainly does not include me. I took a first aid course; found (with some difficulty) proper liability insurance for my site; erected secure fencing with a chain and padlock at the entrance; posted signs, had a first kit on site with its location posted; asked for proof of liability insurance from my trades. And more! It was not enough to merely insure the site and keep proof of liability coverage on site. The key was to have a safe worksite to minimize the chances of any accident ever occurring.

I also felt that if my site looked professional, my trades and suppliers would respect the fact that although I was a homeowner-builder, I could run a site as well as or better than anyone else. However, if a manual exists informing homeowner builders how to put together a professional work site, I never found it.

Where the responsibility lies for setting the workplace safety parameters should be a shared responsibility. But everyone has to play ball. I’ll consider that in my next post.

JBheadshot John Bleasby, Associate Editor
 Canadian Contractor 


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